Image by Albert González Farran, UNAMID
  • Blog
  • 27 July 2021

Including local and national actors in humanitarian open data

How data-driven transparency can be extended to better capture the critical work of local and national actors within the humanitarian system

Written by Verity Outram

International Policy & Engagement Lead (Maternity leave)

Local and national actors are critical to an effective humanitarian response, hence the strategic prioritisation of localisation in the Grand Bargain 2.0. Yet these actors remain largely invisible in open data on humanitarian activities and financing.

To date, global humanitarian transparency efforts, including the commitments made through the original Grand Bargain, have primarily focused on data and decision-making from global donors, agencies and international non-governmental organisations.

For the activities of local and national actors to become more visible in humanitarian data and for open data to meet their needs, it is imperative that data-driven transparency efforts are now extended to include them. Their inclusion is a vital element of the power shift within the humanitarian system – which, despite being long advocated for, is still overdue.

The IATI-3W prototype tool

In support of the Grand Bargain transparency workstream, Development Initiatives have worked with signatories and partners to identify how we could support the enhanced traceability of funds and the greater visibility of local and national actors in open humanitarian data.

In this project, we set out to identify how to improve the availability of information on local and national actors without increasing the burden on those same actors. We heard in our interviews that publishing to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) may not be the best solution for all local and national actors.

The volume of data on local activity in IATI is currently low. For Somalia, of nearly 2,500 IATI activities, none had a reporting organisation that was identified as local, and of nearly 6,000 references to participating organisations, only 42 were categorised as local (mostly in activities from a single reporting organisation, Oxfam Novib). However, other sources of data can provide complementary information on humanitarian action at the local and national levels. That data could potentially be combined with IATI to give a more comprehensive and connected view of the humanitarian system.

On 26 July, we published a technical report, Improving the visibility of local and national actors in humanitarian aid data, authored by David Megginson and Mark Brough, outlining our methodology, findings and recommendations from building a prototype tool to combine IATI data and 3W (Who? What? Where?) reports from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The prototype, focusing on Somalia, shows the potential for a significant increase in the visibility of local and national level activities in open data through data interoperability, using shared information like organisation names, sectors, and geographical location to combine the different data sources.

For instance, through IATI, we found only approximately 1,000 activities reported for Somalia over 17 months. Yet, in just a single month’s 3W snapshot, we found nearly 24,000 reported activities. The report outlines the complementarity of these data types and what additional information combining them enables us to learn about local and national actors and their activities, as well as their connections to international actors.

IATI-3W interoperability is not a panacea to the challenges of tracking localisation and increasing local actor visibility. Most significantly, for instance, 3W lacks financial data and is not available in all contexts. Nonetheless, we believe 3W and other non-IATI data sources have a role to play in a multi-dimensional approach to these challenges.

We therefore recommend that IATI, OCHA and organisations publishing to IATI:

  • Increase the quality of the relevant elements of IATI publication that enable traceability to the local level
  • Enhance the IATI standard to include unambiguous organisation type codes for governments and local governments in the aid-recipient country, to enable automatic disaggregation
  • Standardise key elements of 3W reports across OCHA offices to strengthen opportunities for interoperability with IATI
  • Explore how IATI, 3W and other local and national data sources can work together.

What are the next steps?

While this prototyping project has concluded, there is significant scope to expand the tool to additional countries and integrate additional data sources to advance our understanding of opportunities for local, national and global-level data interoperability.

Beyond this, and in support of the localisation and quality funding priorities at the heart of the Grand Bargain 2.0, a more comprehensive assessment of local and national humanitarian data sources in differing contexts is needed, identifying how these sources can be connected to the global effort to improve data-driven transparency, and how donors can actively support the data needs and transparency efforts of local and national actors. Taken together, these are the crucial next steps in achieving the global commitments to localisation and monitoring progress towards them.